Philip Johnson RIP (Nov. 2, 2019)


Phillip Johnson, law professor emeritus of UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, is widely recognized as the godfather of the contemporary intelligent design (ID) movement. As the author of several books and numerous articles explaining scientific, legal, and cultural dimension of the debate over ID and Darwinism, Johnson was one of the most prolific authors in the formative years of the movement.

It was Johnson’s 1991 book Darwin on Trial that first convinced many thinkers that neo-Darwinian evolution was buttressed more by a philosophy of naturalism than by the scientific evidence. Johnson’s influential writing became the magnet of scholars from a variety of fields—biology, chemistry, physics, philosophy, theology, and law—to forge the intelligent design movement.

With the mind of a law professor, Johnson was a master at spotting issues. And the key issue he saw in the origins debate was not the age of the earth or the differing interpretations of Genesis by Christians. It was a more fundamental question of interest to theists and non-theists alike: Is life the result of blind, undirected natural causes, or is it the result of purposeful design? By focusing on this question, Johnson transformed the entire origins debate. Johnson continues:

Darwin on Trial became a uniting force around which many like-minded individuals—scholars of many stripes, churchgoers, students, and even open-minded agnostics who dared extend their skepticism to Darwin—could rally. For many, that rallying cry ultimately became “Intelligent Design!”

Biography | Darwin on Trial

May he Rest In Peace…


I can’t help reflecting this is symbolic of the death of the ID movement as a whole. With figurehead Johnson gone, Dembski having given up and walked away, and Craig openly sympathetic to some form of divinely guided evolution, who do they really have left?

1 Like

There will be plenty of time to game out the meaning of this. For now, I am not asking for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for all of us.


Another good biography to read:

If, on the issue of evolution, anyone deserves the title of a modern-day William Jennings Bryan, it is probably law professor Phillip E. Johnson. From the unlikely post of the Boalt Hall Law School on the UC-Berkeley campus, Johnson ventures to the hinterlands to fire up the locals challenging the scientific establishment’s assumptions about evolution and its place in the high school curriculum. In three books and numerous articles attacking Darwinism, Johnson has made the case that the evidence for evolution is surprisingly weak and that the theory is a threat to morality and ethics. What distinguishes Johnson from most of his colleagues in the creationist camp and makes him such an effective spokesperson for the movement is that he really understands not just some—but all—of the primary arguments for evolution, but still is able to say, with erudition and undeniable reasonableness, “I beg to differ.” Johnson has even earned the grudging respect of physicist—and outspoken atheist— Steven Weinberg who, in his book Dreams of a Final Theory , calls him “the most respectable academic critic of evolution.”


It is sad for any light to go out. Condolences to his friends and family.

Still, I beg to differ with that biographical assessment.
In the mid-1990’s he also thought he understood the contemporary science behind HIV in AIDS as well, concluding there wasn’t a decent causal connection made. All this serves as a reminder that despite a strong background in the field of law, and perhaps whatever logical & deductive capabilities it develops, there’s no substitute for acquiring sufficient background with another field’s subject matter. And woe for those who don’t. You just spin your wheels.


7 posts were split to a new topic: Comments on Philip Johnson

De mortuis nil nisi bonum, I suppose. But in that case, there should be nil.